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02 Feb 2017

A Failed Set: Tone-Deaf Sequences Overshadow Great Work by De Niro in 'The Comedian'

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Robert De Niro and Leslie Mann in The Comedian. Robert De Niro and Leslie Mann in The Comedian.

Robert De Niro delivers a good performance in The Comedian, a film from director Taylor Hackford that doesn’t match the great actor’s prowess.

De Niro plays Jackie Burke, an aging standup comedian dealing with a TV-sitcom past he isn’t too proud of. De Niro does a nice job playing a Don Rickles-type old-school comedian. He’s not entirely hilarious, but he’s convincing in his standup sequences. He’s also good when Jackie is off stage being an ornery bastard.

The film lets him down in its handling of modern-day things like viral videos and reality TV. Hackford’s take on modern media is woefully out of touch, and De Niro finds himself stranded in some rather ridiculous, tone-deaf scenes.

Leslie Mann is her usual great self as a younger woman Jackie winds up trying to romance; the two actually make a convincing almost-but-not-quite couple. Harvey Keitel is a little overbearing as Mann’s dad, but Danny DeVito scores as Jackie’s bemused brother; it’s the best work he’s done on the big screen in many years.

For everything that works in this movie, there are two things that don’t, so De Niro’s solid work is ultimately wasted. There are lots of cameos from standups like Richard Belzer, Hannibal Buress, Brett Butler and Jimmie Walker.

Yes … Jimmie Walker is still alive.

The Comedian is playing at theaters across the valley.

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